Management of obstetric anal sphincter injuries – a role for the colorectal surgeon

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AimTo determine if surgical repair of third and fourth degree obstetric perineal tears by an experienced colorectal surgeon produces satisfactory functional results in the short and long term.MethodConsecutive deliveries were studied prospectively over a 32-month period. All patients with suspected third or fourth degree tears were referred to the colorectal team. Following confirmation of the injury, patients underwent surgical repair using a standard overlapped technique according to an established protocol. The patients were reviewed 2 months later. Long-term continence was determined, by postal and telephone follow up, after a minimum of 3 years.ResultsFifty-nine sphincter injuries were identified and repaired by the colorectal team. Two months following repair 51 (86%) of patients had normal continence, four (7%) had urgency, and five (8%) had occasional incontinence of flatus. All patients with any degree of incontinence underwent endoanal ultrasound at which no sphincter defects were noted, and all improved symptomatically following pelvic floor physiotherapy. Long-term follow up data was obtained in 45 women. Thirty-nine (87%) had normal continence scores, 11 (24%) described urgency, but only three (7%) were often incontinent of liquid stool. Seven (15%) were occasionally incontinent of flatus.ConclusionExcellent short and long-term functional results were obtained in the repair of third and fourth degree tears when performed by experienced colorectal surgeons. Since the protocol was established, obstetricians in North Cheshire have adopted the double overlapped technique, and now manage the majority of these injuries themselves.

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